Baxter Black on the Airplane Mini Screen

The only logical explanation is the airline is using hidden cameras to spy on me. Here’s how it went down.

I get on the plane last night. I pulled the short straw with a middle seat so I got in and out of my row three times. Airlines loading planes from aisle to window is like loading a pot of cattle from the step to the nose.

It’s a fancy plane with mini televisions in the seat backs with previews and advertisements rolling. Mine is advertising stock trailers. Or some sort of horse product. I don’t know, I’m watching the silent movie version. And then this:

Baxter Black

Yes, that is Baxter Black on my screen. The remnants of my old communications life stirred inside me. How awesome that Baxter Black is in front of the eclectic audience that is the airplane crowd, I thought. Just a smidgen of ruralness to be sure, but a smidgen is more than zero.

And then I looked around. To the right, to the left. Craned my neck, awkwardly stood up in the guise of stretching so I could see down the corridors of seats. My silent movie was the only one with Baxter Black on it. The only one!

I sat back down, looking at my boots. Gingerly brushing the Carhartt logo on my coat. Furtively eyeing the flight attendants.

How did they know?

Hidden cameras. It is the only answer I am willing to entertain at this time.

Chatted with 5-year-old you lately?

The first cold snap has enveloped us. The last remnants of fall slipped out the window, and the chilly fingers of impending winter snaked in the door. I’m a rebellious five-year-old all over again, shouting at Mother Nature “I don’t wanna wear a coat!” As long as the wind doesn’t blow and I keep moving, I’ve been able to tough it out.

As we kick off Thanksgiving week, I can’t help but be cliché in my thoughts. Thankfulness. We shouldn’t have to put “thankfulness” on our to-do list each day, but if that’s what it takes to make it a habit the rest of the year, then maybe we need to.

Today, this week, the whole year, I’ve been thankful for my job. I don’t mean I’m thankful to be employed with the ability to cover my expenses. Though I’m certainly grateful for this, the luxury of loving what I do is of even greater importance.

My office is the outdoors in all its guts and glory. My windows are the morning sunrise, high noon clouds and twinkling stars at dusk. I work with horses, cattle and dogs. I drive on gravel roads, leave cell service in the dust and can’t imagine a better way to be.

As I type, I think maybe I should delete everything I’ve written. It seems like acknowledging what you are thankful for and how you have been blessed should be a straightforward affair. This, this and this are good in my life. The end.

But every which way I’ve tried to say it just comes out reeking of “I have a shiny new toy” syndrome. I know there are millions of people who don’t know what it feels like to love their job. They are living as a means to an end, a pathway to a retirement where they hope to finally spend their days doing what they like.

I get it. Trust me when I say it doesn’t have to be like that though. For now? Maybe. For a few more years? Okay. But if you don’t love your job, then you need to start asking yourself a few questions. Start with “why” and “what can I do to make a change in the right direction”.

Get in touch with that five-year-old kid you used to be. The same one who didn’t want to wear a coat and dreamed all the dreams she didn’t know would be so hard to find in real life.

Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

They don’t make country music like they used to. That racket the new country radio stations are playing? I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t country. I’m not sure most of it is even music.

I’m grumping like an 80-year-old woman with a pipe and a rocking chair, babbling about the old days. But what happened to creative lyrics that told a real story? When did artists let go of the art of making music?

George Jones sang about it in Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

Who’s gonna fill their shoes
Who’s gonna stand that tall
Who’s gonna play the Opry
And the Wabash Cannonball
Who’s gonna give their heart and soul
To get to me and you
Lord I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes

And I got to wondering, who’s gonna fill the shoes and boots and lace-ups of the farmers and ranchers? While they may not be knocking on the blue-haired doors of nursing homes just yet, a lot of farmers and ranchers are on the downhill slide of life. Jesse Bussard touches on this topic of aging farmers and ranchers and young people wanting to get started in her Beef Producer blog “Future Ranchers Lack Keys: Land, Livestock and Money”.

Who is gonna fill their shoes? Is it you? If so, post a comment. Even if it’s just a short, “My name is Festus McGou, and I am [or hope to be] a pumpkin farmer.”

I don’t want folks saying they don’t make farmers and ranchers like they used to, because I don’t think that’s true. If your dream is production agriculture, then stand up and say so because there are those who need the camaraderie and others who need to hear their footprints won’t go unfilled.

Unfilled boots in northeast Oregon snow

IOU: A Homemade Christmas

A cedar tree cut from the pasture. Flannel shirts. Blizzards. Overflow of food – gravy! Piling into a mid-70s Ford pick-up to tackle the backroads to grandma’s house. Reading about the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Feeding calves. Homemade gifts.

Those are my Christmas memories. Humble, perhaps, but rich beyond any dollar amount.

Now I hear stories about how some woman punched somebody else to get an Elmo doll, sparkly doo-dad or whatever fad is happening that I don’t have any idea about. What kind of Christmas memories are those?

I’m not against giving gifts – I’m against mindless giving. And the best way I can think of to step free of the mindless giving cess pool is to do a homemade Christmas. At least once, at least partially.

Homemade gifts are chock full of love, time and thought. When you sit down to make something for someone else, giving a gift becomes a brand new thing.

Not good at making and creating? Do an IOU. For a week of doing the dishes. For a foot massage. For folding the laundry. For mowing the yard. For control of the remote. For just about anything, as long as it holds significance for the person receiving the IOU note.

It’d be a pretty great gift if my future husband were to hand me an envelope with a card that said, “IOU an evening horseback ride and a sunset picnic”. Provided I could cash it in during the summer months.

Maybe as a last-minute gift, slip a card in an envelope addressed to the family with “IOU a homemade Christmas next year” written on it.

IOU: A Homemade Christmas

5 Lessons from the Unpopular

5 Lessons from the Power of UnpopularI just finished The Power of Unpopular: A guide to building your brand for the audience who will love you (and why no one else matters) by Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing. At first glance, this book looks like it has a fat lot of nothing to do with cattle ranching, but I’ve pulled out a few quotes we can apply to our bovine-related lives.

It’s impossible to get everything done on one’s own, and the sooner you acknowledge that you need a team to get you from point A to point Z and every point in between, the better off you’ll be. Ask for help, know what you don’t know, say thank you often, and never be afraid to admit it when you’re wrong.”

Even a small herd of cows quickly commandeers your time and resources. A ranch needs a team of people, whether they are employees, feed deliveries, veterinarian services, etc. I especially love the idea of “know what you don’t know”. It’s hard to admit sometimes, but if you don’t know something, find someone who does and learn from them. If you have the resources, let them do it. They’ll be far more effective.

Understand that there are more than a few people who will never get what it is you do or why you bother with it.

Your brand is a who. It’s never a what. People do business with people, and brands that help their audience understand that there’s a person behind the pitch have the opportunity to soar far above the rest.

I pulled these two quotes out because of their relevance to people who buy food and why it is important for cattle ranchers to share about their beef stories. You don’t have to look much past your front porch to see people who don’t understand ranching.

There are some people who will never have an appreciation for it and will do whatever they can to grind it beneath their heels. But there are a lot of people who just need the opportunity to talk to a rancher about where their beef comes from so they can make their own decisions about what food they want to buy.

Look back at the last time you shared a meal with more than one person. Did everyone around the table agree on everything in every conversation that arose during the course of that meal? If so, remind me never to come to one of your dinner parties, because they’re probably held in Wonderland, and that’s not a commute I’m willing to make.

Be open to new ideas. It’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done, but that doesn’t mean they should be. Listen, consider, and then make a decision. Don’t skip the first two steps and head straight to the decision-making step.

It’s not hard to lose track of your audience when you’re working every hour of the day to build a new business. At some point, we’ve all lost sight of the customer in pursuit of the end goal, and as a result, we’ve probably had some completely avoidable snafus added to our track records.

Stretch your minds a bit here, because the end goal is where you want to keep your focus. What are you trying to accomplish on your ranch? Are your investments of time and money in line with those goals? Or are you getting tangled in the details?

If it all went away tomorrow, what would remain? Never forget that people and relationships are what grant us access to life’s greatest potential.

I’m closing with this quote for a simple reason: ranching sucks up time like a shop vacuum. Working dawn to dusk is the standard, not the exception. Yes, there’s a never-ending stream of things to get done, but family and friends are more important than a to-do list.

Find a way to incorporate your most valuable relationships with your work. Dedicate time to just be with those people. Make it a priority, even when you’re in the trenches during the busiest seasons of the year. Just have fractions of time to dedicate? It counts, and it matters.

Ditch the Plan, Drive in the Direction

In the 3,200 miles I drove to Iowa and back this month, I did a lot of thinking. You’re hard-pressed to ignore those things you’ve been avoiding when it’s you, half a country of highway and no radio stations.

And in that half-country drive, I finally acknowledged what I want to do. A 100%, no doubt belief in what I am supposed to be doing with my time here on earth: raise cattle.

This isn’t a light switch moment. I’ve known for years – decades if you count those years growing up that I wanted nothing but ranching – that my place lies with the cow-calf ranch. But it has taken me a long time to work up the courage to face the challenge, and this trip finally has me toeing the starting line.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been focused on drawing up a plan. A set of steps that will put me in a position to tackle the challenge of cattle ranching.

Midweek, I decided to ditch the plan.

A plan is like a list. You cross off the first step of the plan and move on to the second. Nail the second, go to step three.

At this stage, a plan puts on blinders to other possible routes that could help you achieve the same goal. A plan needs to be flexible, and I’m not good with flexible plans. To be flexible, I need to not have a plan.

That sounds dumb, doesn’t it? How are you supposed to get where you want to go if you don’t have a plan?

John Deere tractor driving down dirt roadDrive in the direction you want to go. Make decisions with what you know now that will nose you in the direction you want to end up. After driving awhile, you’ll have more information and be better equipped to decide whether you want to turn left or right.

With the plan, you may not have seen the left or right turns, stuck to the original road map built on retired information and driven straight off the cliff you hadn’t seen.

If you’re flexible and can still be open-minded, use a plan. If you’re like me, drive in the direction you want to go with the destination guiding your decisions.

I wrote this before I saw this piece by Jesse Bussard. Similar topic, different viewpoint.

Welcome to PNW Rancher

I was searching around the internet for tips on how to write the first post of a new blog – more than a little asinine considering I’ve been blogging for about four years. I’ve written many first posts, but you know that feeling you get when your significant other finally invites you home for Christmas dinner? That feeling that has you in a sudden panic to find the exact right outfit because you can’t wear your standby Christmas sweater with the reindeer and the fuzzy red nose?

I’ve decided the exact right outfit for this first post is to tell you a little more about me. Over the course of the next, oh, few decades, you’ll read exactly what PNW Rancher is about – being a resource for the PNW beef cattle industry and an information source for those who don’t know much about the cattle business. But I suspect I will rarely talk about myself beyond today, so read up!

(For a concise picture of PNW Rancher, please visit the About page.)

My name is Erica Beck. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Iowa and moved to the PNW (Pacific Northwest) about three and a half years ago. Love it here. More than I love apple pie, and I am a woman who really enjoys apple pie.

I have two undergraduate degrees in nonsensical things: sports management and criminal justice. Currently, I am pursuing a masters degree in agricultural education with an emphasis in animal science. While I find myself wondering why I hopped back on the school train without checking where the next stop was, I think it will all work out in the end. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll find out when I get there. Oh, I also work full-time in agriculture communications for the dry pea, lentil and chickpea industry. I only spend the majority of my time there. Hard to believe I almost forgot to mention it.

Four is the number of sisters I have and one brother. I am by far the shortest one though I have as much as a decade in age on some of my siblings. However, I am the only sibling with red hair – what I lack in height I make up with my sparkling and witty personality.

While beef cattle, ranching and horseback riding are my passions, I do try to diversify my interests. I enjoy photography, running, writing, snowshoeing, good books, going on road trips and learning mixed martial arts. Every woman should learn how to properly punch and kick someone. I believe in God, but I lock my car and keep a golf club by the back door just in case. Doc, the border collie pup

On a final note, I have a dog that has wormed his 50-pound way into my heart. He’s approaching a year and a half old, and cows are his favorite thing. Even if we weren’t bonding over our bovine love, I’d probably still kinda like him with a face like this. Photo: Doc, the border collie pup

Thank you so much for following along with PNW Rancher, and the journey I have mapped out in my head. I don’t know if there is any treasure at the end of the rainbow, but what can it hurt to ride along and see?

Coming Soon!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that this site will be up and running in full force before too long. Still doctoring the site with all the horse pills I’ve got in my box, so thank you for your patience. Please stop in again soon!